Water (Canada/India;117 min.)

directed by: Deepa Mehta
starring: Sarala; Seema Biswas; Lisa Ray; John Abraham
Michael says: "Deepa Metha’s WATER marks the final installment in her elements trilogy, films set in India, highlighting some of that country’s social injustices. Set in the 1930’s Mehta backdrops her story with the decline of England’s colonial rule and the rise of Mahatma Gandhi. Yet these momentous events are barely acknowledged by the central characters of WATER, widows who become outcasts from society after their husbands die. Chuyia is a child bride of 8 or 9 when her husband dies and she finds herself shorn of her lovely hair, wrapped in white and sent to the temple of widows to live in poverty apart from society. Chuyia doesn’t understand what is happening, and her willful spirit gets her in trouble with the unofficial ruler of the widows. Chuyia befriends the beautiful Kalyani, who is lucky enough to keep her flowing locks, a privilege that comes with a heavy price. Another key player in the temple is Shakuntala, another influential widow in the temple who is stern, but compassionate and becomes a strong advocate and ally of Chuyia’s. One day in the city, Chuyia and Kalyani befriend Narayana, an impossibly handsome young man who has just finished his university studies and is a follower of Ghandi’s. His modern sensibilities allow him to see past the tradition of spurning widows and he immediately falls for Kalyani. Their forbidden love form the core of one story, while the plight of the widows becomes the other, with Chuyia as the symbolic figure.

"Mehta blends Shakespeare’s tragic Romeo & Juliet with the grand sweep of Bollywood epics, thereby appealing to viewers looking for a more conventional film that carries a lesson, but beyond the artifice (gorgeous as it may be) Mehta borrows a page from fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan, and reveals the true story of WATER to be in the quiet moments beneath the epic. The quiet scenes of women of all ages struggling under a cruel stigma whose time had long past. Mehta and cinematographer Gilles Nutgens have outdone themselves with stunningly gorgeous shots, many of water and its cleansing nature; effective use of lighting and slow motion. Many scenes will simply take your breath away in their beauty and effectiveness. WATER is a difficult film, not due to its subject matter, but because of its structure. Many viewers may focus on the epic portion of the film, which is merely window dressing to make the harsh cruelties more palatable. The final scene sums up the entire film and the actress Seema Biswas, who plays Shakuntala, captures the moment beautifully. 4 ½ cats"

Marilyn says: "That was well said Michael----What struck me was the continuation of
the practise of making widows outcasts, even young children (the idea of child brides is not even addressed) even now when laws exist forbidding it.....something like polygamy here. It is a socially sensitive movie, beautiful, well done and haunting long after.....Give it up Michael---5 cats."
Bruce says: "In India women are slotted by employing dichotomy: pure/impure, auspicious/inauspicious. The exalted category is the married woman who is considered pure and auspicious. WATER tells the story of another group, the pure and inauspicious, the widows of India. The year is 1938. As the film begins an eight year old girl is being removed from her parents’ home. Chuyia is a widow, having married a young boy who has died. Crying and terrified, she is separated from her parents and taken to a home where widows from eight to eighty are stowed away, removed from sight, forgotten by their families. Widows cannot be auspicious.

"Deepa Mehta has made other controversial films, FIRE and EARTH. Her life was threatened over making FIRE a film about women loving each other in the absence of marital affection,. Her earlier films do not threaten the fiber of Indian culture in the way that WATER does. She was basically forbidden to film WATER in India and had to go to Sri Lanka for shooting. In spite of that switch WATER is still lush and beautiful, which intensifies the contrast of India’s physical beauty with the ugly manner in which women are treated. It is shocking and painful to think that such practices exist today although they have long been outlawed. Until recently widows often threw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Burned alive and going up in smoke was considered more honorable than being a widow.

"WATER succinctly gets to the core: while cultural and religious reasons are cited as the primary factors behind the custom of sequestering widows, the true reasons are economic. No family wants an extra mouth to feed. One hopes that a once-prevailing attitude is on the wane as more women become educated and are able to fend for themselves in the throes of widowhood.

"Chuyia enables the viewer to see the other widows in simplistic, eight year-old terms. Not all of Mehta’s characters are sympathetic. This lends a realistic tone to the film and removes Mehta from any perceived soapbox. Mehta also debunks any myth that widows remain either pure or inauspicious. Mixed in with the melodrama in the widows’ home is the drama of Gandhi and India, a country on the brink of political upheaval and social change. In my opinion, the political drama unnecessarily reaches epic proportions, particularly at the film’s end. Such criticism is splitting hairs for Mehta has made a lovely film that is an extremely important chapter in the world-wide history of ways in which women are consistently mistreated. 5 cats"

Beth Caldwell says: "I have to be the black sheep of the group and grade this film down a little. I thought the cinematography was breathtaking and some scenes were so unbelievably beautiful and creative. I also loved the character development for the widows, especially Chuyia.

"I thought the basic premise and overall plot was very good, but I have one major exception. I really must be critical of the filmaker's choice to give such heavy emphasis to the romance between Kalyani (the beautiful young woman who is abused) and Narayan. I believe it was a conscious choice to demonstrate that these women cannot be freed without the help of men - those with progressive political ideals, and I don't take issue with this particularly. But the romance lacked any form of subtlety, and it seems these two actors were chosen more for their appearance and flair than actual acting abilities, and it takes away from the very real feel of the rest of the film. This dramatic focal point takes what would be a very creative, intelligent, and emotional film and gives it a feel similar to that of an animated Disney movie.

"I think that filmmakers with this kind of superb talent should be held to a higher standard, and thus should not be compelled to indulge so much in this type of crowd-pleasing plot overlay, even in the land of Bollywood. I think Michael said it best when he said that the film's true story to be revealed in the quiet moments beneath the epic.

3.5 cats"